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Recently, on my piece I got into an interesting discussion that I find would be of importance to some of my watchers, despite the person being helpless in said discussion and just looking to waste their time.
Basically, I encountered yet another person who cannot grasp the difference between concept and visual aesthetic, and is quick to brand any widespread concept as similar to some popular piece of media that utilized such a concept.
I personally define visual aesthetic in concept art as series of image elements, art techniques and stylistic patterns that unify an array of objects in art into a single, wholesome, stand-out microcosm which is recognized by these elements. It's what allows us to relate a piece of art to a certain time period ("that's so 80's!"), a culture ("typically oriental stuff!") or movement ("absolutely baroque!").
A concept, on the other hand, is a concept – an idea made into flesh. The concept might have a definitive visual aesthetic, or it could be generic. Therefore, the concept is WHAT, and aesthetic is HOW.
However, many people seem to greatly mix the two, or mistake visual aesthetic for style and technique, which are components of the aesthetic, but not it’s contenders.
Here is what I mean under a visual aesthetic. I want you too look at these screenshots of very popular media, game and film, and get a hang of what I’m talking.
Since this blog entry was spurred by Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which I’m sure many of you played, let’s look at it first:
The most glaring visual aesthetic motifs for DE:HR is the color pallete, which falls into black and yellow/gold/orange. Most of the interface is coded in those two colors. The light and bloom effects, that tinge the games "atmosphere" is in most environments, yellow as well. Such a strict color coding immediately sets a major visual aesthetic theme. Second thing – triangles. Triangles are repeated in most of the environment, deco and character designs, along with pronounced edges in environment and object design. While the exposition may vary, the triangles and angled surfaces find their way in most of the game. And lastly, another big visual aesthetic component of DE:HR – is a use of gloss and glow atop victorian-esque setups, which clashes modernity with classicism for a truly cyberpunk feel.
Dead Space, and it’s subsequent iterations have a defined visual aesthetic as well. It doesn’t just go sci-fy – again, it creates a set of visual rules that all of the game’s elements follow, and as seen on this screenshot, the most evident rule is ribbing. Ribbing is repeated in nearly every non-necromorph object in the game, starting with Isaac Clarke’s s suit, and continuing on with Ishimura’s design, the environments, interface and object. What does that achieve? Unity of space and manufacturer. The Ishimura is feeling solid, made by one company, and existing in a real world.
And the movie Oblivion, which is color-coded, and shape-coded as well. Most of the movie objects are stark white, including the protagonists suit, his hub, the drones and so on. The drones and the hero’s method of transportation share a similair, spherical contemporary design awfully reminiscent in its cleanness and simplicity Apple’s industrial design, and it manages to convey to the viewere that this is high-tech shit. It’s not just a single design, but a similair design theme running through the movie’s art production that once again ups the degree of believability.
The problem I have with a lot of modern concept art and modern art appreciators – when we’re talking about large industrial projects - is that they’re more focused on the concept, but don’t care much about upholding a unified, natural visual aesthetic.
In concept art this translates into the what I call "generic fantasy cancer", ie "everything and a sink, too!"
Why I call it generic fantasy cancer? Because most of the time, when making a fantasy concept, the artist doesn’t think about a wholesome visual aesthetic, but throws in everything in their visual library that’s about armor and medieval times. Since most of the time the visual libraries are not so big, it translates into a mish-mash of discordant and generic elements, as seen in this example:
There’s no feeling of unification and believability. In art production, say, in games, the difference between simple concepting and creating a visual aesthetic, in my opinion, is most vividly seen in the Dragon Age series. While many people hate on Dragon Age 2, I hold it in much higher regard than the first installment, Dragon Age: Origins/Awakening, both in story – but most importantly, in art.
DA: O has absolutely unremarkable visual aesthetics, indiscernable from a myriad of other fantasy RPGs. What set this game apart of it’s competition, was a compelling role-playing experience, gameplay and story arch, as also a wide set of character customization options. But the game design seems ragtag, and feels like being done by different people in different places. From the beautifully stylized Orzammar (which I think of as one of the most successful visual languages found for a fantasy race) it drops to the pits of well, this:
It’s an cutscene screenshot, demonstrating dark-spawn in all their generic, reptiloid glory with what looks like celtic knotwork patterning slapped for no reason on their generically spiky-toothy bad guy armor. The difference between character and environmental and even interface design, the disjointment of it that is demonstrated in DA: O, for me, at least takes away immersion in the game, my belief in it and the satisfaction of playing.
But with Dragon Age 2, the studio went another route, and created a whole new, standalone visual aesthetic and narrative to the game universe, which enabled to solidify its mythos, and present the game universe as something that is wholesome, and not a series of maps and battleground – a REAL place.
Now, look at the dark-spawn design for DA 2 and compare it to the DA 2 design of the main character. Firstly, while it has the same concept (ie, undeadly looking bad-guy goon), the new dark-spawn is visually different from the predecessor, and yet, related to the main character. Certain elements keep them grounded in the same space, signify they share a same reality. But the studio went further. It created environments, interface elements, loading screens, maps:
All with the same overall visual aesthetic, and that, in my opinion, was a great success. It was done through a specific color pallete, use of fonts, patterns and repeating uniform elements, while adding enough variety and sub-aesthetics to keep the thing lively.
That’s why I feel that it’s important to keep a unified, competent visual aesthetic in concept art. Unfortunately, that is largely depended on research, reference and a big inner visual library, which many artists don’t find necessary to develop or limit by not consuming enough media and art per se, because as seen in the abovementioned examples, the correct thing might be found anywhere in our lives – in architecture, in fine art, in historic pieces, in home appliances and etc. Not just in other media.
I constantly try to keep this in mind when I design characters, outfits and other objects. I try not to delve in disjointed ragtagness and keep the relationship between concept and aesthetic as organic as possible. Doesn’t work at times – maybe, but that’s not a detractor. Because I believe that a concept art’s impact lies 90% in solid visual aesthetic, and only 10% - in the concept on it’s own, and its just a matter of practice and determination to create you own either from scratch or through inspiration in your whole life experience of observing the world around/
I like shooters, man( The only combo-ish third-person types of games I really enjoyed were Prototype and Metal Gear Revengeance - mostly because the controls were done right.
Good control is essential. A game has to FEEL right.
Yes, it's not fun to have your work associated with already existing pieces of art; it makes your work seem less original.
alientomato perceived your pic to be inspired by DEHR, and commented on it. Perhaps s/he played the game recently, and so it was primed to be top-of-mind?
Whether you like it or not, DEHR made a large impact and so of course it will stay top-of-mind on the public for a long time. You will definitely not have had your last DEHR-comment on your work.
Besides, you put your shit up for public display. YOU do that. To get recognition. To receive comments. So don't go throw a hissy-fit when people speak their honest mind and their words don't boost your ego.
If you REALLY don't want to be associated with DEHR, then it is up to YOU, dear TD, to set your art enough apart from DEHR and all other cyberpunk work to NOT be detected by the mass-public as inspired by them.
It is not up to your audience to "perceive your work correctly", it is up to YOU to convey your art in such a way that it RELIABLY delivers the concepts you want your audience to perceive.
And to top it off, I still stand by the point that the general public has limited perception capabilities, and even less tact. My work might be viewed and commented upon by anyonem but once you oeave a comment, your taste, perception and everything else, by the same logic, is as open to critique and commenting as the work of art. And I as freely can comment on the menal abilities of the commenter as he does on my art, cuz its aaaaaallll in public.
Dont like it? Tough shit, deal with it.
I definitely agree the art direction was better in DA2, though at the same time I thought the game didn't play as well as Origins. I'm not really expecting much from DA3 Inquisition (though some funny drama has already been brewing over that).
MMOs really suffer from generic fantasy cancer though. Armor/outfit and environmental design starts to become questionable, especially in the endgame. When people have the option to dye/recolor their armor, game looks more like I stepped into a cosplay convention than some fantasy world.
I hate it when RPG games have these huge inventories, over 9000 types of unlockable/lootable armor, hyper-crafting thingies and all that. I want to be immersed into the game and story, not screw my eyes shifting through endless lists of potions and belts, and trying to figure which give me +1 DMG.
Crafting was definitely more convenient, though it felt weird not having to hunt individual ingredients. The worst craft ever though was making runes in Awakening - that was a money sink and it was horribly inconvenient.
In my experience though, most armors end up getting vendored, since items get powercreeped/outleveled really quickly. If there is something I hated, with regard to over 9000 types of things, it was Skyrim's potions/consumables/crafts. That was a headache.
Fingers crossed that the designers have the sense to ignore the dumbfucks, as I am looking forward to the game.
Went on a bit of a rant, but I agree with everything else in it's entirety, good read.
You're too easily angered is what I think. But that's not important. The important part is, that you need to learn the difference between a simple jab, and outright insults. At no point did I claim that your art looked anything like DX to me; it seemed *inspired* (if you're unsure what the word "inspiration" means, feel free to look it up!) by the DX universe.
I kind of expected you to be better than this. Your insights are without a doubt valuable, though, as you know your way around with a pen.
Oh, by the way: I was talking about the first DX game. Not the fuckups that followed. Seems to me you're more involved in this whole Deus Ex business than me.
That is why I love RTS games (in addition to the real time strategy) - each faction has a disctinct and thoroughly applied visual aesthetic, and often also their own interesting unit concepts (at least the good ones).
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Again, a very interesting and informative journal.
I appreciate this post.
Since you mentioned Darkspawn, I think that radically different approaches to design in the two games come from Bioware changing what Darkspawn were supposed to be during later stages of the first game's development which then made them look disjointed and out of place. DA tried its hardest to make them look like dragon minions (which could kinda explain the decorations), while DA2 places more focus on the what they're spawned from. But in each case, they're very poorly thought out antagonists.
And no, I don't think their first iteration has any dragon connotations, it's just a shitty design job also stiffled by technical limitations. I just think that the art direction team that worked on DA 2 was just lots more competent and strictly controled, and the art director had a wholesome vision, while the first game art director allowed his subordinates to shit all over the place like they wanted.
Could you elaborate on what you mean by "technical limitations"?
I'm not sure how you came to the conclusion that in the first game subordinates did whatever they wanted. Aside from Orzammar, everything was...same. It was generic and thus nothing fluctuated in the design. I really can't think of anything that seemed radically different from other parts of the game like in the Diablo picture in your journal aside from pants-on-head retarded Dalish female leather armour.
I think many artists' styles are essentially a result of what media they're exposed to and enjoy(as well as nature, other artists, etc.), but there's the original input too.
Some people lack imagination and cling to what's familiar, and then come in with comments about how such and such piece reminds them of something vaguely similar. Example; I have a picture of an elite in white and purple armor, and someone told me it looks like Frieza, simply because it's white and purple. Or how on pretty much anything with a tropical and alien setting, people compare it to Avatar.
Those kind of comments do piss me off when no similarity was intended. I'd understand it if the likeness was intentional or if it was a piece of fanart, but mostly it's just a case of "well you drew an alien so you must've been inspired by Alien" type crap.
My watchers, eh, not so much